What if 3D printing were a 100 times faster?

by Esteban Soto (@esoe03)

Let’s say I want to harness light and oxygen to create 3D-printed objects. All this in 25 to a 100 times faster than usual 3D printers do. Sounds like out of science fiction right? Well, this kind of technology already exist.

During a TED talk, University of North Carolina Professor Joseph DeSimone explained the science behind his 3D printer. It is called CLIP (Continuous Liquid Interface Production) and it is a game changer for this industry. It is so unique that this might be the only true 3D printer at the moment.

First of all, DeSimone explains why we have been misusing the word “3D printing”. The reason is because what we know as 3D printing is just 2D printing over and over again, subsequently all of these 2D prints pile up to build a three-dimensional object.

DeSimone’s company, Carbon 3D, came up with the idea to invent CLIP from the Terminator 2 movie when the new T-1000 rises up from a metallic liquid puddle. So this technology is really out of science fiction.

In case you don’t remember the scene:

The approach behind CLIP is brilliant, by using light and oxygen they control the process to grow objects, yes grow.

“Light and oxygen work in different ways. Light can take a resin and convert it to a solid, can convert a liquid to a solid. Oxygen inhibits that process.” Professor DeSimone explains CLIP’s basic idea.

The printer has three functional components:

  1. A reservoir that holds the liquid.
  2. At the bottom of the reservoir there is a transparent and oxygen permeable window with a stage that will lower into the puddle and pull the object out of the liquid.
  3. It contains a digital light projection system underneath the reservoir that uses ultraviolet light.

3Dprinterdescription

“With our very special window, what we’re able to do is, with oxygen coming through the bottom as light hits it, that oxygen inhibits the reaction, and we form a dead zone. This dead zone is on the order of tens of microns thick (3 times the size of a red-blood cell) right at the window interface that remains a liquid. While this is happening we pull the object up. When we change the oxygen content, we can change the dead zone thickness.” DeSimone told.

That is how CLIP produces objects 25 to 100 times faster and DeSimone believes that with this technology they will be able to produce even as a 1000 times faster in the future. In fact, he thinks that 3D printing is going to be so fast and release so much heat in the future that water-cooling systems will need to be added to the machine.

Take a look on how they produced a small and detailed Eiffel Tower in about 6 minutes.

Besides controlling oxygen, light and the light intensity, with their own software they can also control the dose to cure, the viscosity and the geometry. Their objects look just like injection-molded parts, you don’t see the surface structure as you can see it in conventional printed objects.

carbon3d-0Just as an example on how this can be a game changer. Think about going to the dentist for an emergency treatment. While you are sitting on the chair, the customized dental impression you need is being made in real time and used on you by the end of the procedure.

“We now can connect the manufacturing digital thread all the way from design to prototyping to manufacturing, and that opportunity really opens up all sorts of things, from better fuel-efficient cars dealing with great lattice properties with high strength-to-weight ratio, new turbine blades, all sorts of wonderful things.”

More from Joseph DeSimone’s talk:

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